If you don’t consider yourself to be creative, it’s not your fault

My best friend and I have grown up together since we were 4 years old. We were both born and raised in India, went to the same school and pretty much lived in the same city all of our school years. After that she decided to study engineering (what is considered a more traditional route in India) and I studied design.

Her and I had very different experiences and we’ve become different people as a result of that. As a designer I was given the freedom to explore and encouraged to make mistakes. I was introduced to the concept of critiques and used those as a learning mechanism. At its core, perhaps this is what makes me more “creative”.

School education in India is highly focused on rote learning and chasing grades that can get you to decent colleges. The emphasis is on facts rather than ideas. We are asked to accept rather than question. The expectation from parents and the society at large is also to choose a stable and traditional career path. Creative industries are not considered viable career choices and people write you off when you say you’re studying design. Much like in India, the UK too doesn’t give design and creativity the same value as knowledge based subjects in schools.

Why is design education valuable?

People often mistake good designers with the ones that have mastery over the skills. However, there is a whole other aspect to design that’s intangible.

The biggest value being creative has brought to my life is that it has given me a sense of purpose. It has become a big part of my identity in a way that the lines between me as a person and me as a designer are somewhat blurred. It has given me the ability to look at my life through the lens of a problem solver. I can confidently say — I may not have the answers but I can seek them by asking the right questions and most importantly it has given me the opportunity and space to understand different cultures and points of view.

Most of these ‘soft skills’ are what makes us intrinsically human. Yet we don’t think it’s essential to teach them in schools. This is where our schooling systems fail us. When certain types of learning cannot be measured, it is often discounted and labelled as non-essential. Is this because we only place value on what can be evidenced? or because our teachers don’t have the tools to teach creativity? Ultimately our teachers are also the outcome of this education system. If they are driven by exam based metrics and are not given the space to explore and adapt, then, we curb creativity at the very root.

I strongly believe that embedding creativity in education at an earlier stage can help make design more than profession or trade. It can be a way of life irrespective of career choices. Given the state of the world, we could use more free thinking innovators and leaders that are drivers of change. According to the Durham Commission Report, creativity is the capacity to bring into being something that was not there before. It exists in significant ways that drive change — major innovations in science, technology or the arts, for example; and it exists in smaller ways — as when individuals and communities find new solutions to the challenges of their daily life. Creativity gives people a sense of agency (2019).

Decentralising creative education that, currently, is a privilege is also key to make it accessible to all. By introducing design or arts as a subject at university level instead of school level, we exclude a large group of people who may not have the resources to access these skills. Even within school systems, it is arts subjects through which creativity can most obviously be fostered. The value placed on them by the independent education sector is clear. But in the state sector the focus on English, maths and science threatens to crush arts subjects (Guardian, 2019). This disparity between state and private is a matter of social justice and begs the question, how can design education can be made accessible to all.

As a service designer and a person who has been through design education in multiple countries, I think I’m now in a better position to look at this subject holistically taking on board different points of view and perhaps explore how creativity can be taught like English or math.

There have been several interventions over the years but they are few and far between. Given that we have a long way to go when it comes to embedding creativity in all aspects of education, there are few angles that I would like to explore as a part of my major project. It may not seem so at first but this is a systemic issue that can be viewed from multiple perspectives. What does the future of education look like? What are the skills that will define future leaders and innovators? What is the metric to measure creative learning? How can teachers be given the freedom to teach creativity? How can we shift perception of creative learning and emphasise its importance to parents? How can creativity be embedded in curriculums in early years of learning? and finally, how can creative education be accessible to all?

I don’t intend to be able to solve all these issues in the next six months, but my hope is that I can emphasise the urgency of change needed and help take a small step in the right direction.

Post Script:

Having gone through more research in the past few weeks, I have decided to focus my study in the UK. I have understood the issues related to creative learning from a systemic point of view and had conversations with experts and former learners. Through these conversations, it is clear to me that those with disadvantaged backgrounds have the hardest time accessing creative learning opportunities primarily due to the lack of resources. The Covid-19 pandemic has further widened these inequalities that have always existed in the UK education system. My aim in these 6 months is to work with educators, learners and members of the community to co-design creative learning opportunities within or outside of the formal education systems so all students, irrespective of their backgrounds can thrive in the future.

References

Durham Commission (2019) Durham Commission on Creativity and Education. London: Arts Council England, Durham University

The Guardian, 2019. The Guardian view on creativity in schools: a missing ingredient. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/06/the-guardian-view-on-educational-inequality-no-quick-fixes> [Accessed 5 May 2021].

I am a service designer, a systems thinker, design advocate, problem solver, story teller, creator of visual narratives and a toast connoisseur